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An Eclectic Digest of Science, Art and Literature



Modified: 2017-09-26T17:27:20Z

 



The Lamps are Going Out in Asia

2017-09-26T17:27:20Z

Joseph Dethomas in 38 North: “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” — Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary, August 3, 1914 US President Donald Trump’s speech to the...Joseph Dethomas in 38 North: “The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” — Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary, August 3, 1914 US President Donald Trump’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly on September 19 may well come to be viewed as “historic,” but not in a good way. This article will leave for others the impact of Donald Trump’s and Kim Jong Un’s reality TV show rhetoric. But the substance of Trump’s speech—including threats to both North Korea and the Iran deal—may have closed any remaining doors to a diplomatic resolution to this crisis surrounding North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. Moreover, Trump’s speech and the North Korean reaction seem to have set us on a path that could very well end in a major war in Asia. The escalating threats and the closing off of diplomatic options by both sides makes it now more likely than ever that President Trump will have to make good on his threat to “utterly destroy” a nation of 25 million people. The strategic consequences of carrying out this threat, even if successful, will be felt for the remainder of this century, largely to the detriment of the United States and the Western World. Major wars are not created with a single action. They flow from a series of decisions that drive participants towards a sense that no other action but war can extricate them from their predicament. For example, many historians now credit Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany’s July 2, 1914 telegram to the Austrian government, which gave his ally a so-called blank check to do whatever it wished in the crisis with Serbia, as the fatal step that set the machinery inexorably in motion for the catastrophe of World War I. Trump shares one common and dangerous trait with the Kaiser: both were amateur militarists given to public bluster and adopting an ultra-nationalist bully-boy style of diplomacy, in part to cover up vast weaknesses in their own characters and their lack of understanding of their countries’ true strengths. But neither of these individuals intended to unleash catastrophe. Certainly, the Kaiser would never have sent his blank check if he had known it would result in the fall of his own dynasty, the disappearance of centuries-old empires, the death of millions, and the emergence of Nazism in his country. No doubt, Trump sees himself as a heroic figure standing up to a mad tyrant using rhetoric, economic pressure and, if necessary, military force to break him. He does not see because he does not understand the vast risks he is running for his own citizens, or millions of residents of East Asia. More here.  [Thanks to Dan Dennett.] [...]



Robots have already taken over our work, but they’re made of flesh and bone

2017-09-26T17:21:43Z

Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger in The Guardian: Most of the headlines about technology in the workplace relate to robots rendering people unemployed. But what if this threat is distracting us from another of the distorting effects of automation? To...Brett Frischmann and Evan Selinger in The Guardian: Most of the headlines about technology in the workplace relate to robots rendering people unemployed. But what if this threat is distracting us from another of the distorting effects of automation? To what extent are we being turned into workers that resemble robots? Take taxi drivers. The prevailing wisdom is they will be replaced by Uber drivers, who in turn will ultimately be replaced by self-driving cars. Those lauding Transport for London’s refusal to renew Uber’s licence might like to consider how, long before that company “disrupted” the industry, turn-by-turn GPS route management and dispatch control systems were de-skilling taxi drivers: instead of building up navigational knowledge, they increasingly rely on satnavs. Fears about humans becoming like machines go back longer than you might think. The sort of algorithmic management we see in the modern gig economy – in which drivers and riders for digital platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo are dispatched and managed not by human beings, but by sophisticated computer systems – has its roots in a management theory developed by Frederick Taylor in the early 20th century. As a young man, Taylor worked as a shop foreman for a steel-making corporation in Philadelphia, where he diagnosed inefficiencies he saw as being products of poorly structured incentives, unmotivated and sometimes shirking workers, and a huge knowledge gap that rendered management ineffective. Managers, he proclaimed, knew too little about the workforce, their tasks, capabilities and motivations. More here. [...]



Take a knee: three minutes from Dallas sportscaster Dale Hansen

2017-09-26T17:07:02Z

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Take a Knee: The revenge of Colin Kaepernick

2017-09-26T17:05:33Z

Stephen Squibb in n + 1: Before the cops bought Dylann Roof a burger after he killed nine people in a South Carolina bible study and before Michael Slager shot Walter Scott in the back after a traffic stop and...Stephen Squibb in n + 1: Before the cops bought Dylann Roof a burger after he killed nine people in a South Carolina bible study and before Michael Slager shot Walter Scott in the back after a traffic stop and then planted evidence on his body; before Daniel Pantaleo choked Eric Garner to death on camera and Jeronimo Yanez killed Philando Castile for legally owning a gun; before Sandra Bland was found hanging in police custody and Heather Heyer was run over by the fascist James Harris Fields, Jr., and the police told the media he was “just scared”; before Jeremy Joseph Christian told two young women of color on a train in Portland, Oregon to go back to Saudi Arabia and then stabbed to death two of the three men who rose to defend them—“I’m a patriot! This is what liberalism gets you!” he shouted in court—before James Harris Jackson came to New York from Baltimore for the purpose of killing black men and stabbed 66-year-old Timothy Caughman to death while he was collecting cans; before John Russell Houser killed two women in a movie theater for watching a feminist film and before Robert Lewis Dear, Jr. was captured alive after killing three people—one of them a cop—in a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood; before the police killed Freddie Gray in the back of a van and 12-year-old Tamir Rice in a park in Cleveland; after so many thousands of others but before all of these, officer Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown when he was standing in the middle of the street with his hands up in Ferguson, Missouri. Wilson thought he was just killing an animal, an angry beast with the temerity to do something other than what he said exactly when and how he said it. The courts and his fellow officers agreed with him, and he was rewarded with early retirement. But Wilson wasn’t killing a creature like a dog or a pig whose complex emotional lives we routinely torture and destroy without consequence. He was killing a citizen of the United States of America, and these creatures are stubborn. They do not listen when you tell them that for 400 years reactionary violence has been part of the culture of this nation. They do not believe it when you point out that the Constitution has always been a hypocritical, contradictory, selectively-enforced document, only taken seriously by the weak-minded. They cannot be convinced that a garish rectangle set about with stars and stripes is just another piece of cloth. And so the protests began. In the streets, in the classrooms, and on the football field, when Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem to draw attention to the blatant, doggedly consistent violation of American citizens’ rights to life, liberty, and due process. What did they expect would happen? That’s the part that has turned me against more beloved members of my family than I would have thought possible. It’s not that they approve of the killing, here or elsewhere, it’s that they apparently share the widespread expectation that after the killing there would be no consequences whatsoever of any kind. More here. [...]



the brilliant and conflicted mind of Edward Lear

2017-09-26T14:46:39Z

Lyndall Gordon at The New Statesman: How Pleasant to Know Mr Lear!” is a comical self-portrait by Edward Lear, the Victorian poet of nonsense. This Mr Lear “has written such volumes of stuff!” His nose is “remarkably big”, his body...Lyndall Gordon at The New Statesman: How Pleasant to Know Mr Lear!” is a comical self-portrait by Edward Lear, the Victorian poet of nonsense. This Mr Lear “has written such volumes of stuff!” His nose is “remarkably big”, his body “perfectly spherical” and his face, ineffectively hidden by an immense, bushy beard, “more or less hideous”. Born in 1812, Lear lived much of his life abroad and eventually built himself a house above the sea in San Remo, north-western Italy. By 1879, when he wrote this poem, he had become a “crazy old Englishman”, who once could sing but now was “one of the dumms”. Lear relays this comedown with mild tolerance. A self-portrait by his imitator T S Eliot is harsher. In “How Unpleasant to Meet Mr Eliot!”, the author’s mouth is prim and his grimness and precision are forbidding. Both poets appear to toss off jingles, yet invite us to pick up a signal:  beckoning through thickets of words towards what they secrete. Jenny Uglow’s Mr Lear explores an “oblique” mode of confession behind the nonsensical mask. To read it is like walking behind a detective’s searchlight trained on the lines. The strength of this biography lies in this illumination of the life through the work, including Lear’s drawings and paintings. The approach expands on the explorations of Vivien Noakes in Edward Lear: The Life of a Wanderer, first published in 1968 and lasting through three editions. Both draw us into the purview of a guarded Victorian. Lear slips two unfunny lines into his pleasant self-portrait: “He weeps by the side of the ocean,/He weeps on the top of the hill.” more here. [...]



Mark Lilla wants to make liberalism great again

2017-09-26T14:43:16Z

Siddhartha Deb at The Baffler: Yet the book serves an unintentional purpose as a barometer for the times. Why is American liberalism unable to provide a better defense of its values than this? Always eager to pursue violations of human...Siddhartha Deb at The Baffler: Yet the book serves an unintentional purpose as a barometer for the times. Why is American liberalism unable to provide a better defense of its values than this? Always eager to pursue violations of human rights abroad, although only in those countries not directly in thrall to American power and capital, conditions at home could surely provoke liberals into a fresh appraisal of the significance of individual rights and a free press. But this is where liberalism’s long, benighted history comes to the fore, the flip side to its professed commitment to free speech, free elections, and free market. Lilla’s complaints about minorities and the disenfranchised, the supreme disdain revealed in his reference to the Democratic Party’s website, which includes links to seventeen groups, as reminiscent of “the website of the Lebanese government” brings to the surface American liberalism’s long history of red baiting and race baiting, its anti-communism and its anti anti-imperialism, its hostility toward Palestine and now to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. It is fear that is the driving force of such liberalism and that pulses throughout this book. In good times, such as the flat terrain end of history promised not that long ago, this characteristic doesn’t surface. Instead, one gets arrogance and hubris, think tanks and op-eds, the certainty of everything in its right place. But now that the clamor of the world, its uneasy disturbances, are beginning to be felt even in the hallowed confines of Brooklyn and the ivory tower classroom, one sees the teeth behind the smile, the fist under the glove, and the common cause between the prissy men with advanced degrees and the demented ranters on Fox News. more here. [...]



18 hours in vietnam

2017-09-26T14:38:43Z

David Thomson at the LRB: The Vietnam War, a film made by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, comes in ten parts, with beginnings, middles and end credits; and lasts 18 hours altogether, which some may feel is a lot to...David Thomson at the LRB:  The Vietnam War, a film made by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, comes in ten parts, with beginnings, middles and end credits; and lasts 18 hours altogether, which some may feel is a lot to ask of busy, anxious wrecks who have their own troubles to patrol. Not that 18 hours on your couch, attending to war, is really so much if you need courage and history in your life. The film took ten years to make, at a cost of $30 million. That’s a lot of money by documentary standards, but it was done in the Burns tradition: there was a seeding deal with PBS, but the greater part of the money was raised by Burns himself, a visionary documenter of America’s past and a model businessman too. Even as he was launching the Vietnam series, he was working on another show, about country music. The Vietnam War starts at the end of the Second World War, with the Japanese finished in Indochina, the uneasy resumption of French control, and their attempts to ignore the pressures of nationalism and the push for independence. And you follow it through to the end of the era called ‘Vietnam’, knowing that that time did not end in 1975, but will last as long as the walking wounded trudge on, and for as long as there is anyone left who understands the remark, made in the film, that ‘Vietnam drove a stake in the heart of this country’ – and knows that the country spoken of here is not Vietnam, despite its three million lost lives.  more here. [...]



Tuesday Poem

2017-09-26T10:49:32Z

Instinct Although he’s apparently the youngest (his little Rasta-beard is barely down and feathers), most casually connected (he hardly glances at the girl he’s with, though she might be his wife), half-sloshed (or more than half) on picnic-whiskey teen-aged father,...Instinct Although he’s apparently the youngest (his little Rasta-beard is barely             down and feathers), most casually connected (he hardly glances at the girl he’s with, though             she might be his wife), half-sloshed (or more than half) on picnic-whiskey teen-aged father,             when his little son, two or so, tumbles from the slide, hard enough to scare himself, hard             enough to make him cry, really cry, not partly cry, not pretend the fright for what must be some             scarce attention, but really let it out, let loudly be revealed the fear of having been so             close to real fear, he, the father, knows just how quickly he should pick the child up, then             how firmly hold it, fit its head into the muscled socket of his shoulder, rub its back, croon             and whisper to it, and finally pull away a little, about a head’s length, looking, still concerned,             into its eyes, then smiling, broadly, brightly, as though something has been shared,             something of importance, not dreadful, or not very, not at least now that it’s past, but rather             something . . . funny, funny, yes, it was funny, wasn’t it, to fall and cry like that, though one             certainly can understand, we’ve all had glimpses of a premonition of the anguish out there, you’re             better now, though, aren’t you, why don’t you go back and try again, I’ll watch you, maybe             have another drink, yes, my son, my love, I’ll go back and be myself now: you go be the             person you are, too. by C.K. Williams from Selected Poems Noonday Press, 1994. [...]



the power of stories to shape reality

2017-09-26T10:45:20Z

Ian McGuire in The Guardian: We live in a world made up of competing and contradictory stories: stories about origins and identity, the good and the bad, the future and the past. Although we can never be sure that any...Ian McGuire in The Guardian: We live in a world made up of competing and contradictory stories: stories about origins and identity, the good and the bad, the future and the past. Although we can never be sure that any one of these stories represents the absolute or permanent truth, some are more believable and appealing than others. While some encourage hope and tolerance, others foster only anxiety, anger or despair. But what makes one kind of story, one version of reality, more successful than another? Why do some live and flourish, while others are ignored or disappear? In the era of Twitter storms and fake news these questions are more important and pressing than ever, and they lie at the core of Marcel Theroux’s ambitious, if idiosyncratic, new novel. As he tells us himself, in one of the novel’s several moments of disarming directness: “The thesis of this book is that we are trapped in stories but that we may be able to imagine our way to better ones. There are other stories than the ones we have collectively chosen. There are second chances and redemption.” Theroux explores these big philosophical and historical questions through the life story of his protagonist Nicolas Notovitch. Notovitch, who is based on an actual historical figure, is born into a Jewish family in Crimea in the late 19th century, but at 17 abandons them and his Jewish heritage and begins a process of life-long reinvention, becoming first a journalist, then a propagandist, a spy, a revisionist biblical scholar, and finally the owner of a Parisian department store. He represents a modern cosmopolitanism that is open-minded and free-wheeling but also, on more than one occasion, morally vague. For Notovich the price of his escape from tradition is a kind of perpetual uncertainty; he is a man who is never entirely sure of himself, and whose story is, as a result, never exactly fixed. ...In the end, The Secret Books, having surveyed the miserable history of 20th-century prejudice and violence, puts its battered faith in the enchanting powers of art. If history forgets or represses certain stories, Theroux implies, then it may be the task of the artist to redeem and revive them. The novel itself becomes a solution to the problems it explores, a means, limited but real, of righting wrongs, and of making stories better known. After all, who would have remembered Nicolas Notovitch and his strange and complex history if The Secret Books had never been written? More here. [...]



Birds Beware: The Praying Mantis Wants Your Brain

2017-09-26T10:37:35Z

Natalie Angier in The New York Times: Tom Vaughan, a photographer then living in Colorado’s Mancos Valley, kept a hummingbird feeder outside his house. One morning, he stepped through the portico door and noticed a black-chinned hummingbird dangling from the...Natalie Angier in The New York Times: Tom Vaughan, a photographer then living in Colorado’s Mancos Valley, kept a hummingbird feeder outside his house. One morning, he stepped through the portico door and noticed a black-chinned hummingbird dangling from the side of the red plastic feeder like a stray Christmas ornament. At first, Mr. Vaughan thought he knew what was going on. “I’d previously seen a hummingbird in a state of torpor,” he said, “when it was hanging straight down by its feet, regenerating its batteries, before dropping down and flying off.” On closer inspection, Mr. Vaughan saw that the hummingbird was hanging not by its feet but by its head. And forget about jumping its batteries: the bird was in the grip of a three-inch-long green praying mantis. The mantis was clinging with its back legs to the rim of the feeder, holding its feathered catch in its powerful, seemingly reverent front legs, and methodically chewing through the hummingbird’s skull to get at the nutritious brain tissue within. “It was staring at me as it fed,” Mr. Vaughan said. “Of course, I took a picture of it.” Startled by the clicking shutter, the mantis dropped its partially decapitated meal, crawled under the feeder — and began menacing two hummingbirds on the other side. “Talk about cognitive dissonance,” Mr. Vaughan said. “I always thought of mantises as wonderful things to have in your garden to get rid of bugs, but it turns out they sometimes go for larger prey, too.” "It gave me new respect for mantises,” he added. Mr. Vaughan’s sentiment is echoed by a cadre of researchers who place mantises in a class of their own among the swarming Class Insecta, and who are discovering a range of skills and predilections that make mantises act like aspiring vertebrates. Praying mantises are the only insects able to swivel their heads and stare at you. Those piercing eyes are much like yours, equipped with 3-D vision and a fovea — a centralized concentration of light receptors — the better to focus and track. A mantis can jump as unerringly as a cat, controlling its trajectory through an intricate series of twists and turns distributed across its legs and body, all to ensure a flawless landing on a ridiculously iffy target nearly every time. The mantis appetite likewise turns out to leap and bound, and with scant regard for food-chain decorum. By the standard alimentary sequence, insects feed on plants or one another, and then birds hunt down insects. But just as there are carnivorous plants like the Venus flytrap, mantises prey on hummingbirds and other small-to-middling birds more often than most people realize. More here. [...]



Social Media And The Training Of Our Minds

2017-09-25T10:21:07Z

by Samir Chopra One fine morning, as I walked along a Brooklyn sidewalk to my gym, heading for my 8AM workout, I saw a young woman walking straight at me, her face turned away, attending to some matter of interest....by Samir Chopra One fine morning, as I walked along a Brooklyn sidewalk to my gym, heading for my 8AM workout, I saw a young woman walking straight at me, her face turned away, attending to some matter of interest. She might have been paying attention to a smartphone, but it might have been kids or pets; the precise details of this encounter have slipped my mind. Unwilling to be run over, clothes-lined, or head-butted by this rapidly approaching freight train, one insensible to my presence, I nimbly stepped aside, infuriated that yet again, on a New York sidewalk, I had been subjected to the tyranny of the inattentive pedestrian.   At that moment of induced irritation, my thoughts were not inchoate, not just an incoherent mess of unresolved frustration; instead, they seemed to arrange themselves into a sentence-long expression of aggravation immediately comprehensible to some imaginary intended audience: “My least favorite pedestrian is the kind that walks in one direction with his attention diverted elsewhere, whether it’s smartphones, kids, or pets.” Or perhaps, “That’s quite all right; you should barge ahead on this sidewalk, your head down, unseeing and uncaring.” This reaction was instinctive; I did not stop to deliberate and compose my verbal reaction in sentence form; my brain responded like a trained machine, a well-primed one; a species of Pavlovian instinctive reaction had taken over my mind. It was not the first time that I had, on encountering something entirely weekday or quotidian, and yet, not unworthy of a mental response, suffered a brief emotional tic and found myself formulating such a summation of my feelings at that instant. The verbal expression of my thoughts did not suggest it was the starting point of a letter to a newspaper or an essay; it had to be concise and succinct. This was not your garden-variety introspection; it was clearly intended for future public consumption, for a pithy display of my thoughts about a matter of personal interest to those who might be interested. I sensed my audience would be sympathetic; some would chime in with empathetic responses; yet others would add embellishments in their comments and annotations. I did not think this sentiment of mine would be greeted with disapproval; I anticipated approval. Indeed, that is why I indulged in that little bout of composition and drafting in my mind, framing the written expression of my thought to make it appropriately irate or ironic. Maybe the ensuing conversation would feature some cantankerous rants about the smartphone generation, about over-indulgent parents and pet-owners, all too busy texting, fretting over children and dogs and cats; perhaps some of my interlocutors would add witty tales of how, one day, in a urban encounter for the ages, they had stopped one of these offenders, and told them off with an artful blend of the scornful and witty. Perhaps someone would add a ‘horror story’ about how coffee had been spilled on them by someone just like the young woman; and more outrage would ensue. A little chat corner would have developed. I had been drafting a Facebook status, a tweet. The folks at Facebook and Twitter have achieved something remarkable: they have made their users regard the world as staging ground for inputs to their products. The world and its events and relations are, so to speak, so much raw material to be submitted to the formulation and framing of Facebook statuses and tweets. The world is not the world tout court, it is the provisioner of ‘content’ for our social media reports. * * * Th[...]



Hidden Figure: Review of ‘The Forgotten Genius of Oliver Heaviside’ by Basil Mahon

2017-09-25T10:11:41Z

by Ali Minai A few years ago, while introducing my class of electrical engineering students to information theory, I said that we lived today in a world created by Faraday, Maxwell, and Shannon. Even as I said this, I was...by Ali Minai A few years ago, while introducing my class of electrical engineering students to information theory, I said that we lived today in a world created by Faraday, Maxwell, and Shannon. Even as I said this, I was aware that, in my zeal for effect, I was omitting the names of many who had made seminal contributions in the fields of electrical engineering and telecommunications, but one name that did not occur to me then was that of Oliver Heaviside. Basil Mahon’s book, ‘The Forgotten Genius of Oliver Heaviside: A Maverick of Electrical Science’, is a valiant – and, one hopes, successful – attempt to remedy this situation where even those immersed in the field of electrical engineering do not know the achievements of one of its founding figures. To be sure, Heaviside’s name does live on in the simple but surprisingly important Heaviside step function H(x), which takes value 0 if x is less than 0 and 1 if it greater. This function, along with Dirac’s delta function, allows the calculus of discrete variables to be unified with the classical calculus of continuous ones – a fact of great utility in an age where everything is increasingly digital and thus discrete. Forgotten in all this is the fact that Heaviside invented the step function as part of a larger enterprise: An operational calculus that sought to solve the problems of calculus in a purely algebraic form. Though that calculus has left its imprint on many methods used by engineers to solve mathematical problems today, it is not taught explicitly in any curriculum and its name has mostly been forgotten by practitioners – a situation symbolic of the fate that has befallen Oliver Heaviside himself. A vivid portrait of Heaviside emerges from the book. We see a brilliant and curmudgeonly character – willful but not unkind, except to those who challenge his well-founded theories with half-baked notions. After rather brief coverage of Heaviside’s background and childhood, the book moves to the beginning of his professional career as a technician in the telegraph service. Lacking a formal advanced education, Heaviside was fortunate to get this opportunity, in part through the efforts of his brother, Arthur, who was already employed in the service and – very importantly – the recommendation of the great inventor, Sir Charles Wheatstone, who was Heaviside’s uncle by marriage. For all the struggles that Heaviside had to go through to gain recognition of his genius, he was fortunate in one thing: He got into the field of electrical communication – the telegraph – at exactly the right time for a person of his aptitude. It was then a new technology, but had already established its utility. The desire to connect the world through telegraph was a major effort into which private investors and governments were willing to sink resources. And yet, everything in the field was being done through trial and error, without the benefit of established theory. The field was dominated by technicians rather than scientists, and the leading engineers of the time – such as Heaviside’s nemesis, William Preece – saw theoreticians as little more than ivory tower wonks with little to contribute to engineering practice. Heaviside was the first person to bridge this divide. He began as a practitioner at the very lowest rung of the ladder, helping to lay cable in the sea and troubleshooting the many practical problems that arose in this great effort. But, with an obviously analytical mind, Heaviside did not remain content simply to discover [...]



perceptions

2017-09-25T04:30:00Z

Bingyi Wanwu. Metamorphosis, 2013. More here, and here.

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Bingyi Wanwu. Metamorphosis, 2013.

More here, and here.

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(Almost) no natural disasters are natural

2017-09-25T10:00:18Z

by Thomas R. Wells A natural disaster is a disaster because it involves a lot of human suffering, not because the event itself is especially big or spectacular. The destruction of an uninhabited island by a volcano is not a...by Thomas R. Wells A natural disaster is a disaster because it involves a lot of human suffering, not because the event itself is especially big or spectacular. The destruction of an uninhabited island by a volcano is not a natural disaster, because it doesn't really matter to humans. A landslide doesn't matter, however enormous, unless there is a town at the bottom of it. So what does the word ‘natural' add? We use it to demarcate the edges of responsibility. We don't use it very well. Man-made disasters, like Chernobyl or Deepwater Horizon or Bhopal or Grenfell Tower, are ones acknowledged to have been brought about by human decisions. These disasters could have been avoided if certain people had made different choices. The suffering of a man-made disaster is therefore the responsibility of particular persons and institutions. They can be held answerable for their decisions: required to justify them and judged – and punished - if they cannot. For example, the investigation into the Grenfell Tower fire will scrutinise in forensic detail the reasoning behind the key decisions that permitted a containable danger to be transformed into mass death; such as the installation of a flammable cladding, the absence of sprinklers; and refuge in place instructions for residents. Some decision-makers may face criminal charges for negligence. They will certainly be vilified in the tabloid press and hate-mobbed on social media. Organisations like the local council and the company running the building will likely receive an official shaming, fines, and compulsory reorganisation or dissolution. In contrast natural disasters are supposed to have been caused entirely by forces outside human control. They were inevitable. No one can be held responsible. However, very few disasters these days meet the requirements for a natural disaster. It's not enough that a natural event was necessary to the disaster, i.e. that the disaster wouldn't have happened without it; that all those people couldn't have been killed by falling buildings if the ground hadn't been violently shaking. The natural event must also have been sufficient to bring about the disaster. To understand the idea of a sufficient cause, it may help to think about imaginary but plausible worlds besides our own actual one. These are worlds in which everything operates by the same laws of physics, but particular histories may be different. For example, Hillary may be president instead. For one event to be the necessary cause of another, there must be no possible worlds in which event B (e.g. thousands of schools collapse) occurs without event A (e.g. magnitude 8.0 earthquake in Sichuan) also occurring. For one event to be the sufficient cause of another, it has to be the case that there must be no possible worlds in which event A (8.0 earthquake) occurs without event B (school collapses) also occurring. Only if it is true that in all possible worlds, if event A happens then event B also happens, is the language of inevitability justified. Let's put that abstract point in the context of a real disaster. If the earthquake in Haiti had been the sufficient cause of the 200,000 deaths and vast infrastructure destruction that would mean that in any possible world in which an earthquake of that size had struck at that time and place, such massive destruction of human life would always occur. We can't test this claim directly by studying alternative worlds, of course. But we can analyse it by what we k[...]



My teacher, mentor, and friend: Richard Harry Adler, 1922-2017

2017-09-22T09:59:36Z

by Syed Tasnim Raza Syed Tasnim Raza & Richard Harry Adler It was late October 1971. My brother-in-law, Dr. Tariq Khan and I were interviewing together for residency training positions in Surgery. We finished our interview at the Downstate Medical...by Syed Tasnim Raza Syed Tasnim Raza & Richard Harry Adler It was late October 1971. My brother-in-law, Dr. Tariq Khan and I were interviewing together for residency training positions in Surgery. We finished our interview at the Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn at 7:30 PM one night and then drove to Syracuse in heavy rain. We arrived at a friend's house at 2 AM and after sleeping a couple of hours we drove to our next interview at the Buffalo General Hospital in Buffalo, New York. There was heavy fog with very poor visibility, but we had to be at the Buffalo General before 9, so we sped west in the fog and made it there just in time. The person to interview us first that morning was the acting director of the residency program in Buffalo, Dr. Richard H. Adler, a general Thoracic Surgeon. He had an angelic face and a lovely soft smile, and his presence immediately made us comfortable. The first question he asked us was why our eyes were bloodshot. We explained the all-night driving session after our interview finished later than expected in Brooklyn. He seemed impressed. After reviewing our application and reference letters he sent us to meet two other young faculty members, Dr. Jack Cudmore and Dr. Roger Dayer. And then we were given a tour of the hospital by Dr. Robert Milch, then the senior resident in surgery. After lunch, we met Dr. Adler again, for the closing interview, where he offered both of us the first-year residency position in surgery. This was a pyramidal program, so that there would be 15 first year residents, but these would be reduced to only six in the second year. Both Tariq and I were so excited we accepted the offer on the spot. We would join the program in July 1972. Thus, began my relationship with Dr. Adler, who would become my teacher, mentor and friend for the next 45 years. Even though there were many Thoracic surgeons in Buffalo during the years Dr. Adler was active, he was the thoracic surgeon and did over 80% of all thoracic surgery at the Buffalo General Hospital. He was Professor of Surgery and eventually Director of the Thoracic Surgery Residency program until his retirement in 1990. He was one of the best thoracic surgeons both in the operating room, and also in his fund of knowledge about thoracic disease, which he always kept updated and current. Dr. Adler was trained at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor under Dr. Herbert Sloan, one of the eminent thoracic surgeons of his time, who also was the Editor of the Annals of Thoracic Surgery. After his training, Dr. Adler came home to Buffalo and joined the Surgical faculty at the Buffalo General Hospital under Dr. John Payne, the Chairman of Surgery. During the next decade, Dr. Adler spent a year of further training in England in one of the foremost thoracic surgery clinics. While in London, Dr. Adler was exposed to Norman Barrett, one of the premier thoracic surgeons, who described the mucosal changes in the lower esophagus due to chronic reflux of acid from the stomach, now commonly known as Barrett's esophagus. On his return to Buffalo, Dr. Adler started methodically collecting patients with hiatal hernia and acid reflux and did mucosal biopsies of the lower esophagus. When Dr. Adler presented the results of his studies at a Thoracic Surgical meeting, Norman Barrett was in the audience. He discussed the paper and congratulated Dr. Adler for presenting the largest series of well documented case[...]



CATSPEAK

2017-09-25T09:49:53Z

by Brooks Riley

by Brooks Riley

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The US and North Korea: Posturing v pragmatism

2017-09-25T09:45:45Z

Donald Trump should stop threatening and insulting Kim Jong-un. This is dangerous and irresponsible. Instead, The US should press for negotiated agreements.by Emrys Westacott On September 19, Donald Trump spoke before the UN general assembly. Addressing the issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons program, he said that the US "if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, . . . will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea." And of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, he said, "Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime." There is nothing new about the US president affirming a commitment to defend itself and its allies. What is noteworthy about Trump's remarks is his cavalier talk of totally destroying another country, which implicitly suggests the use of nuclear weapons, and his deliberately insulting–as opposed to just criticizing–Kim Jong-un. He seems to enjoy getting down in the gutter with the North Korean leader, who responded in kind by calling Trump a "frightened dog," and a "mentally deranged dotard." Critics have noted that Trump's language is closer to what one expects of a strutting schoolyard bully than a national leader addressing an august assembly. And one could ask interesting questions about the psychological make-up of both men that leads them to speak the way they do. From a moral and political point of view, though, the only really important question regarding Trump's behavior is whether or not it is sensible. Is it a good idea to threaten and insult Kim Jong-un. As a general rule, the best way to evaluate any action, including a speech act, is pragmatically: that is, by its likely effects. This is not always easy. Our predictions about the effects of an action are rarely certain, and they are often wrong. Moreover, even if we agree that one should think pragmatically, most of us find it hard to stick to this resolve. How many parents have nagged their teenage kids even though they know that such nagging will probably be counterproductive? How many of us have gone ahead and made an unnecessary critical comment to a partner that we know is likely to spark an unpleasant and unproductive row? And if one happens to be an ignorant, impulsive, narcissist, the self-restraint required in acting pragmatically is probably out of reach. Which is worrying when one considers how high the stakes are in the verbal cock fight between Trump and Jong-un. There can be various motives behind issuing a threat. You could be signaling something to a third party (e.g. that you are a dangerous enemy, or a loyal friend). Or you could be looking to bolster your own confidence. But insofar as you are thinking about the party you are threatening, a threat is usually intended to have one of two consequences.             1. Cause a conflict through provocation.             2. Forestall a conflict by instilling fear. Every reasonable person agrees that a war between the US and North Korea would be catastrophic. It could very easily and quickly lead to millions of deaths in both North and South Korea. Even if one is callous enough to discount the consequences to North Koreans, the proximity of Seoul to the border, with a population in the greater metropolitan area of 24 million, means that North Korea could almost certainly wreak havoc even if it only used conventional weapons. So a threat that risks provoking a conflict is horribly irresponsible. Threatening Kim Jong-un is thus only sensible if it makes war less likely by instilling fear. Is it likely to do this? We don't know. To know how the recipient of a threat will react, you have to [...]



STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH EU? "CENTRISM" IN THE UK AND BEYOND

2017-09-25T09:47:14Z

bby Richard King When the writer Paul Mason was booked to appear at the annual conference of Progress earlier this year, he was more or less assured a rough reception. Progress, after all, is a Blairite "ginger group" within the...bby Richard King When the writer Paul Mason was booked to appear at the annual conference of Progress earlier this year, he was more or less assured a rough reception. Progress, after all, is a Blairite "ginger group" within the British Labour Party – formed in 1996, one year before their boy won power – and Mason the quasi-Marxist author of the excellent Postcapitalism and a strong supporter of Jeremy Corbyn. But I doubt he was prepared for just how bitter and self-pitying the right wing of the party has become since Corbyn set about transforming Labour into a genuinely social democratic movement with broad appeal amongst the young and the poor. Referring to anti-Blairite tweets Mason had sent in the wake of the May election, one audience member complained how "intimidated" she now felt at Labour Party meetings. Another demanded Mason apologise. (He didn't.) But things got really interesting when the panel chair suggested that Mason had "entered the Labour Party behind Jeremy Corbyn" – a not-so-veiled reference to the Trotskyist tactic of "entryism" whereby radical groups affix themselves to larger mainstream organisations in order to influence policy. Mason reminded the assembled comrades that he'd joined the Labour Party at nineteen years of age, and that his grandfather was of the generation who'd founded the party in 1900. He then invited the Progress faithful to consider whether they wanted to remain in Corbyn's Labour Party at all. As he put it, to boos and jeers from the floor:   In case you're misunderstanding me, just listen. If you want a centrist party, this is not going to be it for the next ten years. If it's really important to you to have a pro-Remain party that is in favour of illegal war, in favour of privatisation, form your own party and get on with it! There weren't many takers for that last proposition, and to an outsider Mason's peroration might sound like a triumphalist taunt. But the notion that a new party could emerge in the wake of the Brexit referendum is not entirely fanciful. Inspired by the example of Emmanuel Macron, Tony Blair himself has established an entity called the Institute for Global Change, a "policy platform" that aims to refill "the wide-open space in the middle of politics", while Paddy Ashdown, one-time leader of the centrist Liberal Democrats, has helped establish More United, a "political start-up" that raises funds for politicians of a centrist, pro-EU persuasion, regardless of party affiliation. Furthermore, in August, former Tory aide and political editor of the Daily Mail, James Chapman, suggested that a number of Conservative MPs had responded warmly to his idea for a new centrist party called The Democrats. "They are not saying they are going to quit their parties," Chapman told the BBC; "but they are saying they understand that there is an enormous gap in the centre now of British politics." True, these moves do not amount to anything like a firm proposal, let alone a formal arrangement. But unlikely as such a development is at this stage in the political narrative, it is worth considering what a new "centrist" party might look like were it to come into being, and what its effect on UK politics might be. Indeed we might broaden the question out to encompass politics more generally: How have the political shocks of the past two years affected our sense of what constit[...]



The art of molting

2017-09-24T18:20:48Z

Justin E. H. Smith: Many animals, not just humans, generate objects that resemble their generators. In most cases these objects are not held to be works of art, however, since they are not made for the sake of resemblance to...Justin E. H. Smith: Many animals, not just humans, generate objects that resemble their generators. In most cases these objects are not held to be works of art, however, since they are not made for the sake of resemblance to their makers. They are not made at all, in fact, but rather molted. At its most masterful, nature gives us ecdysis, the variety of molting common to many invertebrates. Unlike lizards shedding their skin, birds their feathers, or mammals their fur, insects and arthropods are outfitted with rigid outer casings, and so their molting involves something closer to a crawling out than a casting off. Consider the scorpion as it sinks into apolysis, when the epidermal cells gradually separate from the hard old exoskeleton. A new cuticle begins to form, and thecreature within agitates, thrusting back and forth until the old integumentary shell cracks. It squeezes out, reborn. Let us imagine that it then turns and regards—perhaps with admiration, perhaps with disgust—the scorpion shaped, self-shaped monument it has, by nature’s necessity, cast off. The new creature appears neotenous, inexperienced, soft-shelled, while the outer casing it leaves behind takes on the appearance of a gutted and abandoned tank, dry and gray and dead, while still plainly retaining the figure of the life it once vehicled. Can we easily distinguish between what the scorpion does when it molts and what we human beings do when we, say, sculpt the human form in stone? The most common means of distinguishing between the two sorts of production is that the human sculptings are representations of human forms, whereas molted exoskeletons or shells are not representations but rather the things themselves, or at least vestiges of the things. More here. [...]



New Theory Cracks Open the Black Box of Deep Learning

2017-09-24T18:09:50Z

Natalie Wolchover in Quanta: Even as machines known as “deep neural networks” have learned to converse, drive cars, beat video games and Go champions, dream, paint pictures and help make scientific discoveries, they have also confounded their human creators, who...Natalie Wolchover in Quanta: Even as machines known as “deep neural networks” have learned to converse, drive cars, beat video games and Go champions, dream, paint pictures and help make scientific discoveries, they have also confounded their human creators, who never expected so-called “deep-learning” algorithms to work so well. No underlying principle has guided the design of these learning systems, other than vague inspiration drawn from the architecture of the brain (and no one really understands how that operates either). Like a brain, a deep neural network has layers of neurons — artificial ones that are figments of computer memory. When a neuron fires, it sends signals to connected neurons in the layer above. During deep learning, connections in the network are strengthened or weakened as needed to make the system better at sending signals from input data — the pixels of a photo of a dog, for instance — up through the layers to neurons associated with the right high-level concepts, such as “dog.” After a deep neural network has “learned” from thousands of sample dog photos, it can identify dogs in new photos as accurately as people can. The magic leap from special cases to general concepts during learning gives deep neural networks their power, just as it underlies human reasoning, creativity and the other faculties collectively termed “intelligence.” Experts wonder what it is about deep learning that enables generalization — and to what extent brains apprehend reality in the same way. Last month, a YouTube video of a conference talk in Berlin, shared widely among artificial-intelligence researchers, offered a possible answer. In the talk, Naftali Tishby, a computer scientist and neuroscientist from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, presented evidence in support of a new theory explaining how deep learning works. More here. [...]



Ernest Hemingway's long-lost Los Angeles visit

2017-09-24T18:01:56Z

David Kipen in the Los Angeles Times: Lots happened in L.A. last night. Lives ended. Lives began. Couples fought, couples made up. A recently transplanted Manhattan-ite said, “All my friends are here!” I probably fell asleep with a book on...David Kipen in the Los Angeles Times: Lots happened in L.A. last night. Lives ended. Lives began. Couples fought, couples made up. A recently transplanted Manhattan-ite said, “All my friends are here!” I probably fell asleep with a book on my chest. Eighty years from now, what record of these events will survive? Partly that depends on who keeps a diary, who writes to friends or family, who posts, who publishes a memoir and who doesn’t. For instance, 80 years ago this week, Ernest Hemingway, the author of “The Sun Also Rises” and “A Farewell to Arms,” grudgingly visited Los Angeles. He had once recommended the only way for a writer to deal with Hollywood: “You throw them your book, they throw you the money, then you jump into your car and drive like hell back the way you came.” Why, then, did Hemingway make an exception in July 1937? It all had to do with a film that he and Dutch documentarian Joris Ivens had made about the Spanish Civil War called “Tierra de España,” or “The Spanish Earth.” He and a group calling itself “Contemporary Historians, Inc.,” including playwright Lillian Hellman; author of the U.S.A. trilogy (with its Hollywood-themed finale, “The Big Money”) John Dos Passos; poet Archibald MacLeish; and Dorothy Parker (who satisfied all three job descriptions and more), funded the picture out of their own pockets. The idea was to make a movie to raise money for the Loyalist cause. Every $1,000, they promised, would buy a new ambulance. Fresh off a White House screening for the Roosevelts, Hemingway stayed only a few days in L.A. He made them count, fundraising for the cause everywhere he went. More here. [...]



The end of September marks fourteen years without Edward Said

2017-09-24T17:47:49Z

Ivana Perić in H-Alter: To commemorate Said and recall the magnitude of his works, we are in conversation with Judith Butler, Laleh Khalili, Avi Shlaim and Illan Pappé. Judith Butler, philosopher and gender theorist, professor at Department of Comparative Literature...Ivana Perić in H-Alter: To commemorate Said and recall the magnitude of his works, we are in conversation with Judith Butler, Laleh Khalili, Avi Shlaim and Illan Pappé. Judith Butler, philosopher and gender theorist, professor at Department of Comparative Literature and the Program of Critical Theory, University of California: Said understood the work of imagination: "Said was able to imagine a world in which the legacy of colonialism could come to an end and a relation of equality in difference could take its place on the lands of Palestine. He understood the work of the imagination to be central to politics, for without an 'unrealistic' vision of the future, no movement could be made in the direction of peace based on a just and lasting solution. He lived in the midst of conflict, and used the powers of art and literature, of the archive, testimony, and public appeal, to ask the world to imagine a future in which equality, justice, and freedom finally triumph over subordination, dispossession, and violence. Sometimes I think he was perhaps too good for this world, but that incommensurability between what he could imagine and what actually exists accounts in part for the power of his writing and his presence in the world." More here. [...]



Helikopter-Streichquartett (Helicopter Quartet) - Karlheinz Stockhausen

2017-09-24T14:14:00Z

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jake lamotta (1921 - 2017)

2017-09-24T14:09:00Z

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pete turner (1934 - 2017)

2017-09-24T14:04:00Z

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